Managing the risk of sea snake bites in the fishing and aquaculture industry
The purpose of this safety alert is to provide information on managing the risk of sea snake bites to workers in the fishing and aquaculture industry.
In October 2018, a worker on board a prawn trawler operating in the Gulf of Carpentaria died after being bitten on the hand by a sea snake. At the time of the incident, the worker was folding the emptied trawl nets as the nets were being lowered by a hoist. The snake was still in the nets when the worker was bitten. The snake was picked up and thrown overboard by a co-worker.
The bitten worker said to co-workers he was fine, and therefore there was a short delay before he was immobilised, first aid applied and emergency evacuation requested. The worker died later that day.
- The snake was still entangled in the nets as it was being folded for storage.
- The worker was not wearing any personal protective equipment (PPE) against potential sea snake bites or stings from other marine creatures.
- The trawler’s safety management system did not include an appropriate procedure to manage the risk of snake bites or other marine stings.
Initial findings indicate a level of complacency towards the dangers of sea snakes within the fishing and aquaculture industry, with workers routinely handling sea snakes without PPE to throw the snakes back overboard. A contributing factor may be the mistaken belief that sea snake fangs are located at the back of the mouth, or down the throat resulting in only ‘dry bites’ (bites without venom).
- Visually inspect all nets for venomous or toxic marine creatures before handling the nets.
- Review the use of PPE, including wear puncture resistant gloves for tasks where there is a risk of contact with marine creatures with toxic or venomous stings or bites – such as handling nets.
- All seas snakes are venomous and all bites should be treated as a medical emergency. If a worker is bitten, immobilise and apply a snake bandage followed by additional immobilisation of the bitten limb with a splint to slow the spread of the venom. Maintaining immobilisation is the most critical part of first aid.
- Arrange for emergency medical evacuation.
- Review your vessels safety management systems and make sure it includes emergency procedures for sea snake bites or stings by other marine creatures.
- Review worker induction processes and make sure all workers are aware of dangers of sea snakes (and other marine stingers), and how to manage them.
- Ensure your vessel has snake hooks or grabbers for handling and removal of sea snakes. DO NOT handle sea snakes by hand.
- Ensure the first aid kit is stocked with specialised snake bandages.
- Ensure all crew members are trained in applying a snake bandage and immobilisation and practice regularly.
For further information please refer to the following
- Work Health & Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Regulations 2011 (Regulations 42 and 43)
- Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012
- National Standard for Commercial Vessels (Part C Section 7 Subsection 7A)
- Marine Order 504 (Schedule 1, sections 7 and 8)
- Uniform Shipping Laws Code (Section 13)
Code of Practice
This Safety Alert contains safety information following inquires made by NT WorkSafe about an incident or unsafe practice. The information contained in this Alert does not necessarily include the outcome of NT WorkSafe’s action with respect to an incident. NT WorkSafe does not warrant the information in this Alert is complete or up-to-date and does not accept any liability for the information in this report or as to its use.